A Yankee fan’s take on A-Rod, steroids, and everyone’s complicity.
Three days, 23 hours and 15 minutes to the arrival of pitchers and catchers. Hope renewed once again.
Winter is loathsome to me. I am a baseball fan. It has been central to my life from the moment I came into this world because it was central to my father’s life.
More than that, I am a Yankee fan. The Yankees have been the constant in our family. The team has held us together through the turmoil of life, providing something to cheer for, something to cry over, or when father and sons struggle to find common ground, something to just get us talking. Yankee Stadium was as much our home as the two bedroom apartment in Mt. Vernon, NY.
So from the moment the last out of the World Series is recorded, I get anxious. I look into the bleak abyss of winter and, God forgive me, wish my time away. I need baseball.
Normally, I’d be starting to breathe a little easier right now. 3 days. 23 hours. 6 minutes.
But I just spent the past two days trying to explain to my Yankee-worshipping son that real reporters don’t print explosive and personally damaging information unless they have it locked down tight. Regardless of the information that is yet to become public, Alex Rodriguez took steroids.
On Monday, Alex Rodriguez came clean. He told the truth. He admitted taking steroids and when given the opportunity by Peter Gammons to spread the blame, didn’t blame anyone but himself. In our eyes, he regained a small amount of credibility and perhaps a little sympathy.
Don’t get me wrong, we were never big A-Rod fans. My father idolized DiMaggio. My brother had Mantle. I chose Thurman Munson (and still say a prayer every August 2nd in memory of his untimely death in 1979). My son has Derek. We really thank God for Derek Jeter. But A-Rod, for all of his personal flaws, is a tremendous talent. And after the misery of the last few years, following the revelations that exposed and hopefully ended the steroid era, we all needed a player to prove that you don’t need the juice to hit home runs. We were willing to forgive Alex his off-field indiscretions, his psychological neediness and even his consummate ability to choke in the clutch. We were stuck with him when they foolishly resigned him. So we were ready to have his back. He has to play to his potential for the Yankees to be successful. Like any fans, we want our team to win.
Now, I have a personal dilemma. I have been public about my disdain for the steroid cheaters. I participated in the landmark book, Game of Shadows, by Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams, about the BALCO investigation. I defended those two American heroes against threats of being sent to jail for refusing to name the source who leaked to them Barry Bonds’ grand jury testimony. Mark and Lance, in my view, were as responsible for cleaning up baseball as the Justice Department — particularly the U.S. Attorney in San Francisco Kevin Ryan — that investigated the steroid operation. At the time, President Bush agreed with me, telling them that they had performed a great national service.
But now, I’m not angry. I’m not screaming for A-Rod to be drawn and quartered. I’m just sad. I’m trying to put it all in perspective from the point of view of a true fan. And as a fan, I think we have to take our share of the blame for allowing the cheating to continue for as long as it did.
Let’s start with the players. The baseball season starts with Spring Training in February. The regular season starts in the first week of April. It runs 162 games over 6 months. It is physically and mentally grueling. The constant cross-country traveling alone wears down the players. It is the definition of a grind.
From the beginning, baseball players have sought a little extra help to get through the season. Some resorted to booze. Others popped speed to help keep their energy up through the dog days of August and September. Too many started snorting cocaine or smoking pot back in the 1970s and 1980s.
But none of those chemical fixes made them hit the ball harder, higher and farther. Steroids give normal humans extraordinary strength. In baseball, it meant that a lot of long fly balls that without the ‘roids would drop harmlessly into the outfielders’ gloves, instead floated over the walls for a 4 bagger.
So imagine you are 32 years old right fielder. You’ve been playing in the majors for 8 years. Your career average looks like this: .292 batting average; 22 home runs; 90 RBIs; 420 slugging percentage. You’ve made the All-Star team twice and are considered one of the best everyday players in the game at your position. Announcers routinely pay you the highest compliment: “He’s a ballplayer.”
It is February. You’re packing for Florida with the awareness that your contract is up and you’re heading into free agency at the end of the season. You are coming off a slightly down year - .270, 15 homers, 70 RBIs. Fact is, you’re getting a little older and you played hurt for a good part of last season. You’re married and have 3 kids. You came up with a small market team and stayed when they offered you a pretty good deal after your rookie contract was up.
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